13 July 2024 | 01:21 PM

Security firms under scrutiny over plague of violence and death at Glebelands hostel

Key Takeaways

Residents of the violence-plagued Glebelands Hostel in Durban told amaBhungane that they have felt less safe since guards employed by Secureco Metsu began patrolling the hostel in 2014.

  • Watch: Zanele Mji takes us through her investigation of allegations

The allegations come against the backdrop of ongoing violence at Glebelands. On Sunday a resident was shot dead and another critically wounded. At least 21 residents have been murdered over the past year.

Local activist Vanessa Burger alleges that since Secureco was contracted by the eThekwini municipality to secure the hostel, about 70 residents have been murdered on hostel premises.

According to a police source, 103 police dockets relating to violence at Glebelands remain open.

Secureco, a subsidiary of Fidelity Security Services, is one of a number of politically connected companies that have controversially benefited from the repeated extension of security contracts by eThekwini.

Read our coverage on eThekwini’s controversial security contracts:

Burger said another Secureco guard, Sivuyile Luna, has been arrested and charged with fatally shooting a Glebelands resident in an alleged crime of passion.

Last week police issued a “wanted” notice for Bongani Mbhele, a man wanted in connection with two attempted murders and a murder at the hostel.

Various sources, including hostel residents and the police, say that Mbhele is a former Secureco guard. An online record last updated in 2011 lists him as an employee of Fidelity Security Services.

Fidelity’s general manager, Kriben Moodley, said he could not answer a list of questions emailed to him by amaBhungane relating to the violence and the company’s performance, citing the confidential nature of Secureco’s contract with the municipality.

The municipality said it was satisfied with Secureco’s performance “so far”.

The hiring of Secureco was one of a battery of measures adopted by the government in 2014 in the face of increasing violence at Glebelands. Former KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu announced a security upgrade that included the installation of a R10-million CCTV system, floodlighting, a perimeter fence and private security patrols.

Municipal spokesperson Mandla Nsele confirmed that Secureco’s Glebelands contract had been extended by the recent judgment in the Durban High Court that overturned the re-awarding of municipal security contracts last year.

However, the effectiveness of the government’s 2014 security regime has been disputed. Burger said CCTV footage has not been used in evidence in the prosecution of any murder since the cameras were installed.

In late 2016, the eThekwini exco set aside another R3-million to upgrade the cameras.
Residents also told amaBhungane that fencing serves no purpose because the killers are hostel residents.

In a visit to the hostel in December 2017, amaBhungane spoke to Glebelands Block R residents, who asked not to be named. All said they felt more unsafe since private security started patrolling the hostel blocks. They accused the guards of spying for hit men and said they did nothing to apprehend those responsible for the violence.

Referring to the June 3 2017 murder of Msizi Makhobo, several witnesses told amaBhungane that they saw the killer run past a parked Secureco vehicle into the Block O building. They alleged that the guard sitting in the vehicle did not give chase or try to apprehend him.

Mawethu Maquthu, another resident, was reportedly arrested for Makhobo’s murder two weeks later.

Residents who spoke to amaBhungane also alleged that Secureco officers watch the movement of targets and inform criminals of their whereabouts.
“You see their security vans circle, then disappear completely from an area. That’s when you know a hit is going to take place,” said one resident.

Both Burger and residents said that the security company’s vans are most often seen parked outside Block O, Block 52 and the surrounding “old blocks”, where hit men are alleged to reside. They claimed that the guards fraternise with suspected perpetrators of violence.

An amaBhungane reporter who visited Glebelands witnessed a Secureco vehicle park outside Block 57 and a Secureco officer enter Block 52, on the other side of a road. The empty vehicle was parked outside Block 57 for at least 30 minutes.

Secureco’s Moodley would not comment on what the officer was doing inside Block 52, or whether the guards are allowed to fraternise with residents.

Residents who spoke to amaBhungane said they feel especially unsafe since Luna, a Secureco officer who lived at Glebelands, was arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of a fellow resident, Akona Ngxokana, in January 2017. He is awaiting trial.

They also complained that Luna was compromised as a hostel guard by the fact that he lives in Block 52.

A block 52 resident who cannot be identified, because he says his life is in imminent danger, called the Secureco guards “useless”. He added that he had witnessed Secureco guards fraternising with the residents of Block 57 and 52.

Nsele said the municipality “was assured by Secureco management that officers deployed in Glebelands … do not live in the area. However, they do have officers who live in the CRUs [communal residential units] in general.”

Police sources closely involved with murder investigations at Glebelands also alleged that Secureco has not offered support to the police in their investigations, and that the company does not file incident reports or communicate with police about murders and other violence at the hostel.

Nsele said that “all incidences [of violence] are reported to the South African Police Service operational centre”.

He said the safety of Glebelands residents is “[one] of the municipality’s utmost priorities” and that eThekwini monitors Secureco’s performance. However, he did not answer specific questions about how the company has improved security at the hostel or why the municipality is satisfied with the way it has operated.

In September 2017 Police Minister Fikile Mbalula visited Glebelands to open a satellite SAPS station. Although he did not name Secureco, he reportedly lambasted private security companies at a media conference held at the hostel.

“These companies pose a danger to society and their strong regulation is required,” African News Agency quoted him as saying.

Mbalula was apparently reacting to a social media video that allegedly shows private security guards contracted to the municipality brandishing automatic weapons and threatening to “kill the dog”. The subject of the threats was unclear.

The minister also called for a nationwide audit of private security firms, warning that those that were not compliant would lose their operating licences. His spokesperson did not respond to an amaBhungane request for clarification.

SAPS officers from around KwaZulu-Natal have been stationed at Glebelands since 2014, after residents and activists repeatedly accused local policeman based at the Umlazi police station of corruption and the use of torture.

Last month, seven suspects allegedly linked to multiple murders at the hostel, including Sergeant Bhekukwazi Mdweshu from the Umlazi police station, appeared in the Umlazi Magistrate’s court.

According to media reports, Mdweshu lived at Glebelands, and activists and residents have long fingered him as a perpetrator linked to multiple murders.

Numerous witnesses testified against him and co-accused Wonderboy Hlophe at the Moerane Commission hearings on political murders in KwaZulu-Natal.

Residents have bemoaned the low arrest and conviction rate for crimes linked to the hostel. However, the hostel dwellers who spoke to amaBhungane said there had been a wave of arrests connected to the Glebelands violence during December.

They said they were not sure whether they were linked to new satellite police stations launched by Mbalula, the Moerane Commission or other factors.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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